By Cherie Simon
If you’re one of the 47 million people who will take flight this holiday season, chances are that you will not be experiencing George Clooney’s love of first-class travel in Up in the Air. Sure, maybe you’ll make a new friend or witness a random act of kindness. More likely, you’ll come face to face with the cold truth -- little can drive you over the edge faster than the chaos and inconvenience of holiday air travel.
So, in the chaos of preparing for your trip, here are a few simple reminders of ways to hold on to some serenity and composure as you endure the indignities, discomfort and stress during those precious hours in transit.
1. Feed Thyself
Who thought you could pay hundreds of dollars for a cross-country flight and not even get a bag of nuts? If you’re really lucky, the airline may allow you to purchase a rather revolting slab of microwaved meat product on a dried out roll. So never board a flight without enough sustenance to get you through at least 6 hours – a sandwich, fruit, nuts, power bars, carrots, cheese…whatever you need. Fast food at major airports has improved, but it’s a lot cheaper to pack your own.
2. Plan for the Worst
That one-hour layover in Dallas is only one cancelled flight away from Christmas Eve spent alone and starving in a fleabag airport motel with mice droppings and filthy towels. (Yes, that was my Christmas Eve 2007.) So make sure to bring a small carry-on filled with whatever creature comforts you’d need for an overnight. Even if you luck out and don’t need it, you’ll buy yourself some peace of mind while worrying about that missed connection.
3. Beat Terminal Anxiety
Cancelled flights, delays, mechanical problems, bad weather – all translate into countless hours in one of the least relaxing environments on Earth – the airport. If you’ve got hours to kill, you can usually find an oasis of relative calm if you look hard enough. You may not completely escape the booming announcements, CNN blaring from the TV screens and screeching kids, but try. Encamp in an empty departure lounge or an out of the way corridor. Go outside and find a patch of grass or take a walk. Some major airports even have a chapel…or a nail salon.
4. Drive Yourself to Distraction
One of the best ways to mentally escape from the in-flight noise, commotion and physical confinement is to distract yourself with a good book, your favorite music, crossword puzzles, or an engrossing movie. Or work, if it does the trick. Don’t count on the airline for any of these things. Bring whatever you need. Your time sitting on the runway may exceed your time in the air.
We’ve all been there. The person sitting next to you has a hacking cough, hasn’t bathed in a week, is a pathological talker, is downing his 5th martini, is hogging the armrest -- possibly all of the above. Or -- worst case scenario – is a screaming infant. This is when it’s time to enter into a zen state. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, relax your muscles and transport yourself somewhere you’d love to be. It could be pure fantasy or wherever you’re actually headed – the ski slopes, a warm beach, in front of your parents’ fireplace or the joy of your own bed at the end of the trip. It usually works. But just in case -- a pair of good earplugs can be your best friend.
Sounds ridiculous, no? Look around the airport or the plane and count how few people are smiling – and these days, that includes the flight attendants. Remember that most people around you are also becoming progressively more irritable as the day wears on. Even if it doesn’t come naturally, a smile can have a strangely disarming effect on strangers, particularly when they’re being rude. (This is particularly effective in long security lines.)
The single, most important thing to remember is that, short of the plane going south, whatever you have to put up with will hopefully be far outweighed by the joys and adventure of where you’re going.
Cherie Simon is the editor-in-chief of The Women's Conference website.